We often hear the same question from teams and universities that want to invest in their data strategy:
Should I hire a data professional?
The answer to that question will vary based on each organization and ultimately depends on your starting point. Our recommendation is always to crawl, walk, and then run when it comes to data strategy and a walker should invest differently than a runner.
In my experience of implementing a successful data strategy across professional sports, higher education institutions, and collegiate athletics, I have seen organizations of all sizes tackle this question in different ways. Primarily, three options come to mind:
1. Hire a new team member.
Create a new role solely responsible for business intelligence, analytics, reporting, and maintenance. Allocating these tasks to a new staff member brings efficiency to your team and allows executives to focus on high-level strategy and vision. Hiring a full-time staff member also means you will have someone who understands your organization’s goals, strengths, and weaknesses and is constantly asking, “How can we use our data strategy to solve our problems?”
Keep in mind – there are no unicorns out there – just because you hire a data professional doesn’t mean that all of your data issues will be solved overnight! That individual will need support and buy-in from across your organization as well as the right tools in order to align technology with your business goals and objectives.
2. Take the village approach.
Especially when hiring or allocating new resources isn’t an option, forming a cross-functional team will ensure your data strategy touches on all parts of the business. For example, in a college athletics environment, I’ve seen a representative from each of Ticketing, Fundraising, and Marketing, all work together to identify priorities, establish goals, and keep each other accountable on progress. This approach has its limitations because everyone has their day job, but an important by-product of this approach is it creates a data-driven culture that can become part of the fabric of an institution.
3. Hire a strategic partner.
Building a data strategy can be time-consuming and a bit overwhelming. Strategic partners like SSB use our expertise to help you clearly define your organization’s goals, business objectives, and the desired impact, then present best practices to help you reach those goals in the form of a product or support. Strategic partners can help minimize the learning curve and pains associated with a new data initiative and save you from reinventing the wheel.
The most dramatic results I’ve seen occur when the three approaches above are done in coordination. For example, a dedicated staff member oversees data strategy, but that individual leverages a strategic partner platform and often reports to a cross-functional team for direction and feedback. Our recommendation is for each of our partners to eventually reach that place, which naturally happens as you see results from initial investments over time.
So, do you need to hire an individual? Eventually, yes, but all organizations don’t need to start there.
Snapshot Case Studies
For some perspective, in the Southeastern Conference, over half of the schools have an official position dedicated to data/analytics. The role is also typical within professional sports organizations, where you will see complete teams devoted to analytics and BI efforts. This position can lead to enhanced results.
For example, the University of Washington has a business analyst to create specific goals, segment the database and analyze the data. This position allows for creativity around new ideas and lends insight to strategy. After segmenting the database from SSB’s propensity model scores for football season tickets, Washington targeted new football leads. It generated $42,000 in sales in addition to 25 new purchasing accounts, all within two weeks.
As another example, Ole Miss attributed $1M in new revenue specifically to campaigns generated from segmentation within the database. SSB didn’t provide the campaigns; the Ole Miss team created them after diving into the data. We have found that the more time and resources an organization devotes to the data strategy, the more they can reap the financial benefits.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and we see many organizations outgrow their staffing resources over time. As you work through this decision, we are happy to lend insight from our experiences with others who have found themselves in the same situation. The most significant step is the first step, and the SSB team is here to support you on your journey.
About the Author
Wade Longmire, Director of Collegiate Markets at SSB, has helped numerous organizations across professional sports, higher education institutions, and collegiate athletics invest in and implement a data strategy.